Free Analog Cable Service Urged

A coalition of small cable operators is urging Congress to let them provide free analog cable service following the switchover to digital television broadcasting. That should make the DTV transition painless for owners of old-fashioned analog TVs, right? But there's a catch. The cable ops want a waiver on the retransmission fees that they'd otherwise have to pay broadcasters in exchange for carrying network signals.

The Save Our Sets Transition Plan Coalition consists of three independent cable ops: Massillon Cable of Ohio, Comporium Communications of South Carolina, and Millennium Digital Media of St. Louis. They want to offer analog cable service for seven years following the DTV transition date of February 17, 2009. And they'd do it by getting Congress to expand the DTV coupon program, which will provide analog-TV owners with $40 coupons to buy digital-to-analog video convertor boxes.

Not so fast, says the Consumer Electronics Association: "The nation’s digital television transition is well underway, and it is working," says spokesperson Jason Oxman. CEA views the proposal as a potential disruption of a DTV transition plan painstakingly negotiated by TV makers, broadcasters, and cable companies.

Broadcasters agree. "There is no justification for changing a law that allows broadcasters to negotiate fair compensation from cable operators for our high value, most-watched programming," says Dennis Wharton, executive VP of the National Association of Broadcasters.

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